Allbiz Finance Brokers director and commercial equipment finance broker Kathryn Bordonaro joins The Adviser to discuss gender equality in the finance industry, overcoming personal challenges and how she addresses the element of loneliness in the profession.
The winner in the Association Leader of the Year category at this year’s Women in Finance Awards reveals how she went from living on a small farm to becoming the director of an award-winning company and helping to consult on legislation, as well as her tips for mortgage brokers looking to break into the commercial space.
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Speaker 1: Welcome to the Elite Broker podcast. This is your host, Annie Kane.
Annie Kane: Welcome back to the Adviser's Elite Broker podcast. I'm Annie Kane, Editor of the Adviser, and I'm joined by James Mitchell, managing editor of mortgages. How are you doing, James?
James Mitchell: Very good, thanks, Annie.
Annie Kane: And this week we're talking to Kathryn Bordonaro - I'm sorry if I butchered that, Kathryn.
Kathryn Bordonaro: Perfect.
Annie Kane: Kathryn is Director and Commercial Equipment Finance Broker at Victoria-based Allbiz Finance Brokers, and she also recently won the award for Association Leader of the Year at the Inaugural Women in Finance Awards in September, and that was in recognition of her work as Vice President for the Commercial Asset Finance Brokers Association of Australia, otherwise known as CAFBA.
Kathryn Bordonaro: Yes.
Annie Kane: So congratulations, Kathryn, firstly.
Kathryn Bordonaro: Thank you so much.
Annie Kane: How does it feel to have taken home that award?
Kathryn Bordonaro: It was a really overwhelming experience. Julie Bishop spoke last week about being lonely, the only woman in cabinet, and that has often been an experience and a feeling that I have encountered. So to be in that room with all those wonderful, vibrant women, and to be a winner of an award - I was just so happy to be a finalist - it was an overwhelming experience, but it was an experience that put fuel back in the tank, and I really want to use that energy to keep striving to show that women can be in the commercial broking world.
James Mitchell: Awesome.
Annie Kane: Yeah, and I think that's so interesting. I mean, specifically mortgage broking normally has few women in it. But for commercial asset finance, that's even fewer, I think. How long as you been in this area for?
Kathryn Bordonaro: So I've been a commercial broker for over 17 years. I've been in commercial finance my entire working life, which I started working for the ANZ bank when I was 17. And I'm the daughter of farmers and earth movers and truck drivers. That's my family tree. So I grew up driving a tractor, getting dropped off to school in a truck. And so when I started working in a finance company - it was Esand back then - it was just natural for me. But there weren't many other women, particularly in the credit rolls.
And it was a few years ago when CAFBA was launched, I flew to Sydney, and I'd put a lot of work into taking all the state-based bodies and forming a national body, forming a national voice for our industry. There was a lot of work in raising standards. And I spoke at that event, and, later, a gentleman crossed the room and asked me what law firm I worked for. And I said, "Oh, no. No, no, no. I'm a broker." And he didn't mean it with any disrespect, but he looked at me, and he said, "But you're a girl."
Annie Kane: We also have brains.
James Mitchell: You can't be a broker. You're a girl. You must be a lawyer.
Kathryn Bordonaro: Yeah. He was stunned. And he quizzed me. And then we got into talking about PPSR issues and all sorts of technical ... And he was quizzing me. And then at the end of it he said, "Well, I look forward to speaking to you again." But that's not an unusual experience. And it shouldn't be. There's no reason. It's just, I think, potentially, the industries that we deal with can be very male-dominated, so transport and earth moving and aviation, and even medical are still very male-dominated. But that is changing, and so there's no reason for the discrepancy.
But CAFBA have got a scholarship programme, and in fact I just saw a sneak preview of CAFBA's annual report and we've highlighted the women that have undergone that scholarship programme this year, and it's just wonderful to read their stories. And actually, the scholarship programme is not about skills, because these women have already got the skills as brokers. It's about encouraging leadership and becoming more visible, because I strongly believe that if you can't see it, you can't be it. So shining a light on the other women in the industry means that for new entrants coming in, their path will be easier.
James Mitchell: That's fantastic.
Annie Kane: And how many people have been actually through that scholarship?
Kathryn Bordonaro: So that's our second year. We have had over 10 participants this year just finished. And the sponsorship that has come from the financiers has been wonderful, and we were overwhelmed with applications this year. So I'm really looking forward to rolling that programme out again next year and continuously bringing the women that have gone through the programme back and revisiting their experiences. My business partner in Allbiz, she went through the programme this year, and the skills and the confidence that she's taken away from that has just been wonderful. And it really makes a difference in your firm. So I would really encourage any principal of a firm to cast their eye around and get out there and really encourage the women in their firms to apply for the programme.
James Mitchell: Yep. I just wanted to ask you a question about ... Going back to what you originally said about how you felt about receiving the award and that sort of thing. And I guess it was about that. You said it can be quite a lonely profession. And I know that, not necessarily for women as well, but I think for all brokers. And obviously our community with our mortgage brokers, and we get to see brokers at events and awards and that stuff. So you get this sense of community, which I think can often be a false sense because it is quite a fragmented thing, and most of the time brokers, whether it's a home loan broker or small business ... They're operating as a one-man band on their own, often in regional areas, and they only come together for PD days or awards or events and that sort of thing. I know that Aaron Christie-David, when we did a podcast with him on the show, he mentioned that element of loneliness within the profession. Do you think that's something that still prevails?
Kathryn Bordonaro: Absolutely. And I think it's really timely to mention it because it's actually Mental Health Week this week, and I watched an interview that Peter Strong did - the CEO of COSBOA, a council of small business organisations - and I met a wonderful woman through COSBOA, Leanne Faulkner, who was a COSBOA small business champion. And she speaks and does a lot of work about small business mental health. So I don't think that brokers are alone in having those challenges, but particularly for regional brokers that are isolated from industry events. And even more so if you are a one-man - or a one-woman - business, you have to make an effort to look at your week and plan human contact time. Go and have a coffee with someone. Have a network.
When I started my business, I joined the local business group and went along and every business person there had their problems, but what we really ... We just get together. Have a wine. Have a beer. Have a coffee. Have talk. We've all got problems. Problem shared is a problem halved. It is something that I very strongly work with brokers to make sure that they're not rocking in a corner in isolation. It's not good for your business. It's not good for your clients. It's not good for your family.
Annie Kane: Yeah. I think that's as well one of the things, James, that we felt at the Women in Finance Awards is that, so many people afterwards were like, "Do you know, it just felt so warm. Everyone felt really supportive of each other." Even if people didn't win, there was so much love in the room. I know it sounds cliched to say that, but I really felt really uplifting and supportive. It was a really supportive environment. I think that's what need as a promise, to-
James Mitchell: It's important. It's very important in a business environment, I think, when it is competitive and times are tough often for people in small business to have that culture.
Kathryn Bordonaro: It really was. My experience that night was I flew in from Melbourne, sat down at the table. I had brought a business partner along with me to keep me company. And all of a sudden I'm on a table with eight people that I've never met before, but we all bonded. We all cheered for each other. We cheered for every name that was announced. There were lots of LinkedIn connections happening. Lots of messaging back and forward, and I've added some people to my network that I never would've met before. And it was lovely to sit there and cheer for people.
It's another reason why I believe so strongly in the value of industry associations, and making the effort even if it's just once a year to go and attend an event. It adds to your network. You might meet somebody really interesting, but if nothing else, you go along and you realise you're not alone in your problems. The challenges that you face are the challenges that every other broker is facing, and you can take strength in that, go back to your business, and you'll feel better about life the next day.
Annie Kane: I think actually - just going back to it - talking about associations. I just want to know the story behind how you got involved with CAFBA. So obviously, I mean, you've got Allbiz with your two other business partners down in Victoria, but I think you've told me previously the story. But I just want for our listeners to know how you got involved, because it was really just by chance that you made contact, and then got more and more involved.
Kathryn Bordonaro: Its funny. I have a wonderful father-in-law who I love and adore and he gives me lots of life advice. He always tell me, "Never put your hand up. Don't volunteer for anything," which is so funny because he's the most community-minded person that I know. He's always off doing something. And I was a regional broker, doing my thing, looking after a group of brokers. Very passionate about what we do. And I love being able to call a customer and say that their approval is done. It's just such a buzz and that never goes away. And I had some information come out about some possible proposed legislation that was going to happen. And I looked at it and I thought, "This has got big impacts here. I can see that this is really going to confuse the process of assessing credit," because assessing credit and providing credit for business, particularly for small business, is very, very different to consumer credit. And you can try and you can put them in the same pot and you can say that they're the same, but they're not and they never will be.
And so I could see that this had big implications and was potentially going to restrict the ability for small business to access credit. So I don't know what possessed me, but I wrote a letter and expressed to then state body at the time my thoughts and my fears and my opinions. Off went the letter. Thought nothing more of it. And next thing I had a phone call from the President of the state association at that time saying, "Look, we really like your letter. Would you come along to our next board meeting? We'd like to discuss this with you further." And off I went and next thing I knew I'd been invited to join, and here we are all these years later and I haven't found the exit door yet.
Annie Kane: Just wanted to write a letter and I'm still here.
James Mitchell: That's really good. I think it goes to show, you need to be proactive, I think, and if there's something which doesn't sit right, whether it's new legislation or whatever, you need to speak up about.
Kathryn Bordonaro: I'm proud of our industry. I'm proud of what we achieve and the differences that we make. We are economic enablers, and I think if you are proud of your industry, well, then find your voice and speak up because if an industry needs regulation ... Regulation needs to be appropriate, it needs to be focused, and unintended consequences of poor regulation will impact not only us, but it will impact to finance for business in Australia, and that has a big impact on the economy. So you might think that you're a little fish, but we're an important fish.
James Mitchell: Yeah, absolutely. And, look, it's funny. We're living in an age of extreme regulation. Obviously 10 years on from the GFC it's been the main thing to come out of the financial crisis is being global regulation. But in Australia, obviously, we see the banking inquiries and all this sort of stuff is just one inquiry after another, and it's interesting to watch. I was watching some of them today just with the major banks, and you often get the sense that those asking the questions and looking to probe are receiving an education just as much as everyone else is in terms of how the model operates and that sort of thing. And I think with small business broking and with mortgage broking, you need people who are at the coalface who are actually dealing with customers, saying, "This is how it works," because I think the people who write the laws are often very removed from what actually goes on.
Kathryn Bordonaro: I think there's a saying. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. That's absolutely been the learning experience of CAFBA. We could see this big problem looming. We had zero experience in Canberra. Saddled ourselves up and went and started knocking on doors. And it was so important that we did that because we weren't hired mouthpieces. We were really at the coalface. We're also small business people ourselves. So we walk in the shoes of our clients. We know what it's like.
I finished working at my desk at midnight last night. I know what it's like on the weekends to suddenly remember that the Baz is due or the POYG report is due, or did I do that cyber security thing the right way? And get a phone call from an employee who's not well. And all that daily juggle of running a business. We get it. We understand it. And so being able to really tell those stories and point out that this lovely, well-meaning piece of legislation is actually going to stop good businesses from being able to access finance, people were shocked. They said, "No, that can't be right." I said, "Yeah. Yeah, it actually is."
It was such a privilege to undertake that journey. It was a terrifying journey. I can't tell you, for a girl from Gippsland to be dropped off at the ministerial entrance of Parliament House, and the taxi drives away and I'm standing there going, "There's no signs. I don't know where to go." And I really had to push myself down the path and open that door, and then go inside and all the corridors looked the same. And I actually had to use Google Maps to find my way to the office that I had to be at.
Annie Kane: That's amazing that it's that intricate.
Kathryn Bordonaro: And what a privilege to be able to go and do that on behalf of your industry. And what a wonderful representation of democracy in Australia that we were able to do that. It's still a big job. It's never done. You have to keep going and telling the story. That's what we've learned. You mustn't sit back and think, "Okay. That job's done."
James Mitchell: Of course. A new agenda comes up. A new round of elections goes through the cycle and it all changes again.
Kathryn Bordonaro: Yes. Yes.
James Mitchell: So you've got to keep on the front foot.
Kathryn Bordonaro: Yes. So I'd love to encourage people in our industry to get involved, to join their industry bodies, join the associations, raise their voices, because we need more people to keep telling our stories.
Annie Kane: I just want to, before we close, talk a little bit about your ... You mentioned there about running businesses. So you've got Allbiz Finance, which is down in ... Is it Gippsland, you said?
Kathryn Bordonaro: Yes.
Annie Kane: And recently launched Foodie Finance, too. What are the two different businesses, and why have you launched a second one?
Kathryn Bordonaro: I haven't got enough things to do. Allbiz is for all businesses and it is a commercial broking firm. But we are in a food bowl area of Australia. I was particularly prompted by the disruption that's happened in the dairy industry, and a friend of mine started her own independent milk brand. And I watched that journey and I was inspired by it. I have a strong passion for food in my personal life. I cook and constantly cook. I have a big veggie garden. And in fact, we shred our paper in the office. We mulch it. We put it in the office veggie garden and then we grow things, and it's a lovely working environment.
James Mitchell: That's cool.
Annie Kane: Yeah. Sustainable as well.
Kathryn Bordonaro: Yeah. We're the hippie brokers. We've built up a big client base in the food industry, and so we thought, "Well, let's build a specialised division for them that really understands their journey and can take a start up operator, or somebody that's maybe very established but looking to take the next step - maybe buy their own building or expand their factory - and let them know that there is somebody there that wants to share that journey with them." And hopefully we get to taste a lot of samples along the way.
James Mitchell: That's a great initiative. I love it.
Annie Kane: Yeah. Well, I think that's pretty much all we have time for, Kathryn, but thank you so much for coming in and sharing your thoughts. But just before we close completely, have you got any tips for mortgage brokers looking to break into the commercial space? Where would they start, and what should they be doing?
James Mitchell: Or finance their favourite restaurant.
Kathryn Bordonaro: Well, call me for dinner.
I think you really need to find yourself a good mentor. I fully respect all skills. I wouldn't go and organise my own home loan. I get a really good home loan mortgage broker to sort my mortgage out. So if you want to make that change, you need to find yourself a mentor. It's a very different industry. It's very different skills. There are a lot of lenders that say, "It's really easy!" And you just tick a couple of boxes. And for some transactions it is, but if you really want to respect a client, respect a client's business, and tell the story and get right into the nitty gritty of their financials and what the story is in those financials, you don't just do that overnight. You really need to get yourself a good mentor.
Join the appropriate industry body and come along to some events, and that'll help you find your mentor.
Annie Kane: Great.
James Mitchell: Fantastic.
Annie Kane: Well, thank you so much, as I said, once again. And congratulations on your award win, too.
Kathryn Bordonaro: Thank you. And thank you to all the organisers of the event. It was a wonderful event.
Annie Kane: Thank you.
James Mitchell: Good stuff. Thanks for your time.
Annie Kane: If you're interested in establishing yourself as a trusted SME broker, or just want to learn more about how to capitalise on the opportunity, then why not attend the Adviser's SME Broker Boot Camp, in association with principal partner NAB? It's visiting Sydney on the 14th of November, Melbourne the following day, Brisbane on the 23rd, and Perth on the 28th of November. And it's a free-to-attend one-day boot camp, which will help answer all your questions and broaden your professional horizons. For more information, visit TheAdviser.com.au/bootcamp-SME-broker
And for all of the news features and social media related to mortgages, please do visit TheAdviser.com.au, and find us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Catch you next time.
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